Years ago, cruise-ship dining was mostly about quantity. Meals were big and frequent but not especially memorable or, for that matter, healthy. How times have changed.
Oh, you can still eat frequently -- 24 hours a day on some ships -- and if you insist, you can fill up on fattening items. Nowadays, however, as the Cruise Line International Association points out, many of its member lines feature signature cuisine from internationally known chefs. What's more, there are almost always healthy, yet still tasty, options. Such meals, included in the price of your trip, are one reason cruise going is the big bargain that it is.
''Cruise-ship chefs can prepare specific dishes to satisfy a guest's request," says Terry Dale, president of the cruise association. ''But for those who require a kosher menu or who have special dietary needs, it is important that the line be made aware of these requirements in advance."
One thing to be aware of, however, is that while meals are included in the cost, some ships' specialty restaurants -- as opposed to the main and sometimes massive dining rooms -- may have service charges, usually about $7-$10 a person. Likewise, depending upon the ship, there may be a charge for fancy coffees, super sundaes, and the like.
If you're bringing children who would starve before they would dine on fine food by top chefs, fear not: Hamburgers, hot dogs, and pizza are still universally available.
For more information, visit the websites of the individual cruise lines or the association's site (www.cruising.org), or see a travel agent.
Vacations To Go has as added two Caribbean cruises designed especially for one-parent families, providing plenty of activities for the children and adult. The first sets sail on June 12 aboard the Carnival Valor for seven nights, visiting Belize, Roatan (Honduras), Grand Cayman, and Cozumel. Prices start at $918. The second is four nights aboard the Carnival Fascination, visiting Key West and Cozumel, starting at $495.
Visit www.vacationstogo.com and click on the Singles link or call 800-338-4962.
Expedia has launched its annual Cruise Deal promotion, which, in addition to savings, gives you up to $300 from giftcertificates.com. The promotion runs through Feb. 28 for sailings on selected ships March 1-Sept. 30.
Crystal cruise for $650
If you're not sure a luxury cruise is right for you, here's an opportunity to test it out. Crystal Cruises and the Virtuoso luxury travel network are offering a three-night round-trip cruise from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., departing March 10 on the newly refurbished 940-guest Crystal Symphony. There are no ports of call but three nights of cruising the Caribbean. Prices start at $650 per person, double occupancy.
Call 800-401-4274 or visit www.virtuoso.com.
Costa Rica for families
Cruise West's Costa Rica Family Adventure will introduce youngsters and adults to three-toed sloths and let them listen to the many creatures for which the Central American country is famous. Departing June 18 and 25 and July 16 and 23, the seven-day itinerary starts at $1,799 a person, double occupancy. Children 12 and under sharing a cabin with an adult can save 50 percent, and those ages 13-21 can save 25 percent. Shore excursions, port charges, transfers, taxes included.
Visit www.cruisewest.com or call 800-296-8993.
Richard P. Carpenter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.